Friday, May 29, 2009

W-h-o C-a-r-e-s-?

First, let's call it for what it is, not what its title is.

The National Spelling Bee has nothing to do with spelling.

Well, maybe a little bit. But only a little bit.

The Bee is, in fact, a test of one's memory. The ability to remember the order in which the letters of words that no child will ever use, come in.

It's a demanding, almost cruel ordeal we put the children through.

And what do they get out of it, exactly?

Nausea. Cold sweats. Fainting spells -- no pun intended. Wracked nerves.

Besides, the Indian-American kids seem to have this down pat, so why bother anymore?

This year's winner is a 13-year-old girl from Kansas who is now the seventh Indian-American child to win the event in the past 11 years.

Her name is Kavya Shivashankar.

“Spelling has been such a big part of my life,” said the Scripps Spelling Bee 2009 winner to the Associated Press. Kavya has been participating in national bees for several years, including the 2008 Scripps bee.

I'm sure she's a sweet girl, but she's got it all wrong.

Spelling hasn't been a big part of her life. Memorization has been.

I'm not sure why we have spelling bees, if the words that are included have a 0.1% chance of being uttered in everyday conversation.

Look, I think the idea of a spelling bee, in its purest form, is a grand idea.

There's nothing wrong with knowing how to spell, No. 1.

I don't know about you, but I encounter bad spelling on a daily basis, and not just on Twitter or in e-mails.

How about on menus, or on signs?

And not just the handwritten ones, either. The kind that actually have to go through (you would assume) some sort of proofreading process.

So I'm not anti-spelling. Far from it. As a writer and editor, good spelling is sort of a part of my life.

But I'm anti-child abuse, and that's what I see the spelling bees--with these high stakes--as being.


Kavya being consoled after being eliminated from the 2008 National Bee


If we're going to have a National Bee, how about testing the kids on words they're likely to encounter somewhere other than a medical or psychiatric journal?

That's right--little Kavya's winning word was “Laodicean,” a phrase referring to lukewarm or indifferent feelings toward religion.

Yeah, that's something 13-year-olds are talking about at lunchtime.

According to this story, Kavya used the technique of writing the letters into her palm with her finger while saying them aloud.

Mirle Shivashankar told the AP that his daughter’s victory was “the moment we’ve been waiting for” and “a dream come true.”

That's all well and good, but these bees make me almost more uneasy than the kind that buzz around and sting.

The reason? They simply aren't, anymore, within the framework of what well-meaning spelling bees used to be.

A true spelling bee was designed to get kids to learn how to spell words, not medical terms or sociological categories.

Today's bees, which are the culmination of local and statewide bees prior to them, aren't designed to be helpful at all to the kids' futures.

It's all about who can cram and memorize the best.

Let's have bees that ask kids how to spell "bankruptcy" and "foreclosure". Maybe "waterboarding" and "recession."

Too easy? Maybe. But more reflective of life.

Recent bee champs have gone on to great things in life--doctors and engineers, for example.

Wonderful. But my gripe isn't that the kids aren't smart enough to make it in today's world.

Let's just not call them "spelling bees" anymore. Because they're not.

Fie on them!

F-i-e. Fie.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Gas Pains

Time was, you could pull into a gas station and be reasonably certain that your brethren in other cars were there to do one thing, pretty much.

Buy gas, that is.

In fact, I remember when you didn't even have to leave your car to fill up.

"Full serve", they call it now.

Back then, it was just "serve" -- one kind.

Sit tight. For here comes Mr. Attendant, striding up to your vehicle.

"Fill it up, regular," my dad would say.

And that's what Mr. Attendant did.

While the gas was pumping, the windshield was being cleaned. Front and back.

Air in the tires was being checked.

If you asked, the hood would be looked under, as well.

Not "full serve."

Just, "serve."

Sometimes, if they were in a really generous mood, the gas stations would thank you for stopping by.

A free set of knives.

Some maps.

And other goodies.

Buying gas now is an ordeal. And not just because of the prices, which, if they were afforded movie ratings, would be NC-17. And inching toward X.

The ordeal part comes when you try to pay.

For no one else, it seems, is going to the gas station to merely purchase gasoline.

We've turned the corner station into mini-Wal-Marts or Meijers.

Or, in the most egregious example, Michigan State Lottery outlets.

The lottery isn't just a matter of asking for a few scratch-offs anymore.

At least, not for the folks I find myself behind in line at the (formerly) gas station.


Insert wistful sigh


The lottery, to them, is mind-boggling numerology.

For one, the lottery people in Lansing have way too many games going on at any given time.

For two, their games are too complicated.

Listening to a seasoned lottery player bark out his (or her) order to the clerk behind the counter gives me a headache.

It's a series of instructions that makes an air traffic controller's frantic tutoring from the ground to a civilian flying a plane whose pilot is unconscious look like child's play.

But the clerks--and I must give them their props--are usually up to the task.

Frankly, I'm not sure whether to be annoyed or amazed by this display.

Naah, I know.

Annoyed. Definitely annoyed.

All I want is my $10 of gas.

I'm at a gas station, after all.

Another escapade is practiced by the smoker.

The smoker never, that I know of, buys gas at a gas station.

Just like the lottery player.

The smoker is there to guide the poor clerk to his or her cancer sticks of choice.

The clerk does far better, usually, with the sophisticated lottery machine than he or she does with cigarette orders.

The desired pack is somewhere behind the clerk, and the smoker has to play a game of "getting hot, getting cold."

Like an Easter egg hunt.

I've been in line when the clerk has literally stepped totally away from the cigarette rack, so he can look at the customer, and try to follow the eyes and hand gestures, in order to find the desired pack.

All I want is some gas.

The smoker or the lottery player never gets behind me, I've noticed. Always it's the other way around.

I see where they have smokers' outlets sprinkled around town. I've gone in there to buy some pipe tobacco on occasion. I wonder why the smokers don't go there more often, instead of intruding on my gasoline purchases.

Yes, I sometimes enjoy a pipe.

Calms me down after a trip to the gas station, sometimes.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Near Total Recall

I'll pick you up at the Stroh's plant after work, then we'll ride on our Uniroyal tires to Cunningham's Drugs for a milkshake. Better yet, a Vernor's float.

Speaking of beverages, I'm running low on Towne Club pop, so can we stop at the distribution outlet? I have my case of empty bottles in the trunk.

Then it'll be off to Great Scott! for a few groceries.

If you're good, I'll treat you to dinner downtown at the Rattlesnake Club.

After a day at Bob-Lo, of course.

Who says you can't go home anymore?

You can do it in your mind. All the time. Whenever suits your fancy.

I've pedaled my bike to Cunningham's, but for the baseball cards in the dispensing machine near the registers. Then I've traded them right out front, amidst the passers-by, with my friends.

Meet me at the Kern Clock. And while we're nearby, you can do some Father's Day shopping for me at Hudson's.

Lord help us if we ever lose the ability to have memories.

It's what can get you through, especially in these tough-as-nails times.

Readers of this blog know that I prefer yesterday to today. But that doesn't mean that I'm not willing to find out about tomorrow, and what it has to offer.

But today is tomorrow's yesterday, and something tells me that those memories might not be so hot.

How can it be, when there's no Hughes, Hatcher and Suffrin to outfit me and my men's clothing needs?

I'd discuss it with you over lunch at Red Barn, but I can't.

Maybe we'd catch a movie at the Quo Vadis theater and sit right in front, with the seats inches, it seemed, from the screen. But no can do.

There's a McDonald's where the Algiers drive-in used to be in Westland.

The horror!

I actually worked at a Cunningham's, in Ann Arbor while going to college at EMU. But it was long after they yanked the soda jerks from it.

I remember parking my car at Tigers games on Abbott Street, and the old Cunningham's warehouse on Rosa Parks Boulevard wasn't far away.

Speaking of Tiger Stadium, do they still let you drink on the roof at Hoot Robinson's? Is Hoot's even open anymore?

Can't have a burger at the Lindell AC anymore. Which means I can't admire Wayne Walker's jock strap, framed, on the wall near the ceiling.

I accumulated most of my 45 rpm records at the K-Mart. They had them hanging behind the clerk, in the order of their Billboard ranking for that week.

Oh, and don't forget to pick up some of those yellow discs with the holes in the middle, so you can play the darn things on your parents' fancy-shmancy stereo turntable.

Memories I keep alive, because, well, someone has to.


The Quo Vadis; some of the seats were so close to the screen you could touch it


There was nothing more exciting than when the Mr. Softy truck rolled by.

Soft-serve ice cream, from a truck.

You heard me.

The Mr. Softy man would park the truck, adorned with a gigantic 3-D replica of a soft-serve cone on its roof, and move to the center of the vehicle. For that's where the window was.

He wore white, and maybe even a hat.

The best hamburger in the world was at a place called Lum's, on Plymouth Road in Livonia. It was the Ollie Burger--spicy and zesty and yes, I can taste it right now.

We'd play Putt-Putt on Middlebelt, ride our bikes there, and if you were lucky you could win a free game if your ball's color lit up on the outside of the caddyshack--and you were fast enough to bring it there before the color changed.

There's a Meijer's where DRC race track once sat.

More horrors!

Of course, you can still grab some Chinese take-out at Ten Yen, so there's that, at least.

Or ribs at Alexander's, which were simply the best of all-time.

Do kids today even know how to ride a bike?

Sometimes we'd set out, in the morning in the summertime, and cruise the local ball fields looking for a game--our mitts hanging on the handlebars. And someone carried a bat.

We'd be gone all day, and no one worried. Just be home before dark; that was the only caveat from mom.

It's important to remember.

Once I bet my friend Jim Krebs that he couldn't par the par five at Whispering Willows golf course. Gave him all summer to do it. Told him I'd buy him dinner at the Fonte D'Amore restaurant on Plymouth Road.

We were in high school still, and Jim was a good golfer. But not par five good. And that was a nearly 500-yard hole.

On the last day before the bet ran out, darned if Jimmy didn't hole out in the required five strokes.

Yes, I paid him.

By the way, I wondered if old Fonte D'Amore was still open.

Did a Google and called the number.

Disconnected.

That's why you should never forget, if you can help it.

Lord help you if you can't.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

What a Roll!

Too few things in life are certain, and the ones that are, aren't pleasant.

Death.

Taxes.

Dick Cheney.

And, the house always wins.

For Pat DeMauro, she took that last one and said, "Nuh-uh!"

DeMauro is a New Jersey grandmother who, in the words of craps-shooting expert Dominic "The Dominator" Loriggio, performed the equivalent of making 500 straight free throws or rolling three straight 300 perfect games in bowling.

DeMauro plunked down $100 at a $10 minimum table, grabbed the craps dice at the Borgata hotel casino in Atlantic City on Saturday and started rolling.

And rolling.

And rolling.

For four hours.

"It was great. Everyone was chanting my name and clapping and I was dancing," DeMauro said, laughing, as she talked to CNN.

In craps, rolling a seven can be very bad. And rolling a seven, mathematically, has a chance of occurring once every six rolls.

That's what makes DeMauro's feat all the more amazing.

She broke the mark of 3:06 set in 1989 by Stanley Fujitake, who was tossing at the California Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. DeMauro obliterated it by over an hour.

It gets better.

DeMauro was only shooting craps for the second time in her life. In fact, the night she got on her, ahem, roll, she was still being tutored on how to play.

“I got on a roll and just kept going for about 41/2 hours — and I was learning the game as I went along,” she said. “Most of the men that were there were really excited because I was bringing them good luck.”

Finally, after 154 successful rolls, DeMauro rolled a seven, called "sevening out".


The reigning Lady Luck, Pat DeMauro


So how much money did she win?

Grandma Pat was coy.

"Well, I wouldn't say tens of thousands of dollars, but it was good!" DeMauro said, giggling.

The more she rolled, the more she won, the more she defied the odds, a crowd gathered.

Some fellow gamers even "tipped" her with black, $100 chips. DeMauro was overhwelmed by the spontaneous show of support.

"Everyone was clapping and chanting my name and they were just ecstatic!"

So what did Loriggio, a renowned craps shooter, say when told of DeMauro's big night?

One word.

"Unbelievable."

Well, shoot! You don't have to be a craps dominator to come up with that word.

DeMauro already knows what she's going to do with the dough she won.

"I told my family, this is my stimulus package for everyone," she said, laughing.

When her lucky streak finally ended, Borgata staff came to take her picture and serve Dom Perignon champagne, DeMauro said. They treated Pat and her companion to dinner and offered them a complimentary suite, which they’ll use on another visit.

And what does Borgata Casino think of DeMauro's mind-boggling night?

“We are very excited to have hosted this moment for Ms. DeMauro and have our property be a part of this historic event for the gaming industry,” said Joe Lupo Sr., vice president of operations for Borgata.

Presumably this was just before he added, "Now beat it, lady, and don't come back anytime soon."

Naah. The house wins enough. They can toss out a bone every once in a while.

In this case, like every 20 years or so.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Daddy Dearest

William Cunningham just got slapped with 100 years of prison time.

He got off lightly, if you ask me.

Cunningham is a Georgia man.

Correction. He's from Georgia.

But he's no man.

Cunningham was sentenced Thursday after a jury found him guilty on seven counts of aggravated assault for forcing his children in 2006 to eat soup laced with prescription drugs and lighter fluid.

Yep, you read correctly.

Not even in my most vile moods could I have concocted that as a tall tale.

Cunningham's motive was to have the kids, ages three years and 18 months at the time, ingest the poisoned Campbell's soup so that he could extort money from the company after they fell ill.

He did it not once, but three times.

“The third time, he forced it down them and this is the one that put the kids in the hospital and made them deathly sick,” said Ron Dockery, the children’s grandfather.

No, 100 years ain't enough.

How about some flogging, or some daily cell visits from brutes who'd like to make Cunningham their "boyfriend"?

Heck, make it twice daily.

And four times a day on weekends.

Then let's pull Cunningham's toenails out, one by one, and when you run out of those, go to work on the fingernails.

Throw in some waterboarding too, just for fun.

We still won't call it even, but at least we'd be getting there.

I have no use for those who abuse the defenseless; read children and animals.

Especially when the abuser is the biological parent of said youngster.

We spend endless hours warning our kids of the bogeyman.

Don't take candy from strangers!

That's been a mantra since forever.

But what are the kids to do when the bogeyman lives with them, masquerading as "mom" or "dad"?

Who protects them in that instance?

In Cunningham's case, the law, thank goodness.

But that's not always the case, of course.

Cunningham's 3-year-old son and 18-month-old daughter were hospitalized twice because of the poisoning. A family member said the youngsters may suffer lifelong respiratory problems from lung damage caused by the lighter fluid.

Make that three visits a day in prison from the boyfriends.

Cunningham's wife has since divorced him. That must have been the shortest divorce hearing ever.

Cunningham pleaded guilty in 2007 to a federal charge of making false claims against Campbell's Soup by threatening to sue them over the contaminated soup.

What possesses a man (or a woman) to deliberately harm their own children?

And this wasn't some fit of anger -- not that that's acceptable, either.

This was pre-meditated, calculated, and done strictly for money.

At the expense of the kids' health.

I wonder if Cunningham thought enough ahead to realize that the money he'd "win" would be spent on his kids' medical bills for the rest of their lives.

Forget the prison boyfriends. Let me at him for five minutes.

It's not even just the physical trauma that these children have endured and will continue to endure.

Who in that family draws the short straw and has to explain to the kids why daddy is in prison?

Presumably, it will be mom.

She gets to tell them that daddy is in jail because he tried to poison them. On purpose.

What would you do if you were the ex-Mrs. Cunningham? Tell the truth, or lie to keep the kids' image of their father pristine?

Of course, they're liable to find out eventually.

That's a nice thing for someone to lug around with them for the rest of their life.

Daddy poisoned me. Made me eat soup with drugs and lighter fluid in it.

To make money.

There's a place down below for the William Cunninghams of the world.

I hope his time spent in prison makes him wish for it.

****************************************

You can read more about this story HERE.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Sorry, Charlie

Forget the women and children.

It's governors first.

If you live in Florida, that is.

Republican governor Charlie Crist of the Sunshine State is making a run for Senate in 2010.

So far, so good. Who's to keep any man--or woman--from advancing any career?

But part of Crist's motive, it's being reported, isn't so admirable.

Charlie Crist wants to move into the Senate because, frankly, the heat's too high in the kitchen in Tallahassee.

"I think Gov. Crist realizes that this is a pretty good time to leave the governor's chair, with all the unemployment and the state in massive debt," one of the politcal analysts said on MSNBC last week.

Well!

So your governor is a bailer, huh, Floridians?

It's time to become a Senator because the state's going down in flames?

My, that's some loyalty to your people, eh?

Now compare Crist to our guv in Michigan, Jenny Granholm.

It was posed to Granholm during the transition from President Bush to Obama whether she'd consider a move to Washington as an Obama cabinet member. There were rumors.

No way, Jose, Jenny said.

How can I leave the state in this, well, state?

I've not always been in Jenny's corner, though she's a fellow Democrat. I grew frustrated with her several years ago as what everyone else in the country calls a recession (it's a flat-out depression in Michigan, and save the debate) began to see its first days in Michigan.

Jobs being exported overseas. Shops closing. And a whole host of other financial problems.

Well, she was working with a decidedly Republican state legislature, and I know that didn't help matters.

But I still felt she was doing more hand-wringing than handling.

I've softened on that stance, mainly because she's rolling up the sleeves and digging in, more than ever before.

That, and she has a friend in the White House, finally.

Which means all us Michiganders/Michiganians have a friend in the White House.

I know, I know--tell that to the auto industry.

But overall, I believe the Obama people care about Michigan. He's from next door Illinois, don't forget. Which means he was closer to the carnage here than some of the others.

Jenny wouldn't ditch her constituents for a fancy-shmancy cabinet post, she said.

Granholm's closeness to Obama is evident.

He picked her to be on his financial transition team, before he took the oath. She's been a relatively frequent visitor to Washington as of late.

Now there's talk, though I believe it to be a long shot of happening, of Granholm being named to the Supreme Court.

Another decision, should she be asked.

I must admit, it would be asking an awful lot of any governor to turn down a chance to be on the high court, no matter how tough times are.

How many times does that opportunity come knocking?


Crist (top) and Granholm (above) seem to have two different ideas about when it's time to flee the governor's chair


But Crist (who is one Republican who I can actually stomach, for the most part) isn't gaining any of my respect for contemplating a Senate run largely because it's time to get out of Dodge, er, Tallahassee.

I suppose he'd argue that he could do bigger and better things for the people of Florida should he be on Capitol Hill.

Bull-you-know-what.

Isn't one of the tenets of the Republican platform that the less federal government, the better?

States' rights and all that jazz?

So using that, wouldn't Crist be best served with his rump in the governor's chair?

Ah, the people might. Just not Charlie Crist, is all.

"Here in Florida, we've shown that when we put people first and work together much can be accomplished, and I intend to bring that same approach to Washington," Crist said in a statement announcing his bid.

Well, that's a nice spin, anyway.

What a guy!

Seems Charlie could look up, wayyyy up, toward these peninsulas and see what our governor says about jumping a sinking ship.

No way, Jose!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The "Other" F-Word

My goodness, now they're even calling Miley Cyrus the F-word.

Fat.

And, good for little Miley, she's fighting back.

Miley is 16 years old. She's a pop star, the daughter of one-time pop star/turned actor Billy Ray Cyrus.

Those are the facts.

Now, the opinions.

Seems some photos of Miley hit the Net that showed her in a bikini.

Even little Miley made a crack on Twitter about her jiggly-ness in the photos.

Then the hounds were released.

The Internet wonks started deriding little Miley for her body. Used the F word. A lot.

So little Miley fought back.


NOT fat. And so what if she was?


She posted on her Twitter: "Talk all you want. I have my flaws. I'm a normal girl. There's things about my body that I would change but stop with calling me f*t in post. I don't even like the word."

Obviously, by the way she gave it genuine F-word status by refusing to even spell it out.

She went on. It's OK to yell, "You go, girl!" as you read.

"Those remarks that you hateful people use are fighting words. The ones that scar people and cause them to do damage to themselves or others."

God bless her.

This obsession with the weight of female figures--literally and figuratively--who are in the public eye is ridiculous.

Marie Osmond, while in the midst of taping Donny and Marie on TV, was approached by a network executive. The boob expressed "concern" that Marie's weight was inching up.

The brief encounter affected Marie terribly, she has said.

Today, Marie Osmond does commercials for Nutrisystem, and her book includes an insert pumping the weight loss method.

I never thought Marie Osmond was the F-word. Not even close.

I like a little meat on female bones, truth be told. Skinny women don't look natural to me.

It's the difference between a cold, empty house and a lived-in home. The kind where the pillows on the sofa are out of place and there's a few things cluttering the coffee table.

Jennifer Love Hewitt, who's simply gorgeous, fought the good fight a while back, against those daring to suggest that she's increased a dress size.

Why don't we care about a man's waist size or the greyness of his hair? Among other imperfections?

Oh, I forgot. That makes them "distinguished." My bad.

Little Miley Cyrus is no more fat than a boneless, skinless chicken breast. She's no Jacqueline Sprat, either, but that's OK.

Perfectly OK.

I'm so proud of her. For fighting the good fight against this reckless use of the F-word.

She's 16 years old, for God's sake.

Yet she seems to have a whole lot more going on upstairs than her adult-aged critics.

Little Miley is someone our 16-year-old daughter enjoys and that makes me even more in Miley's corner.

Way to go, Miley. You show 'em, kid!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Peter the Great

Peter Sellers has been dead for almost 30 years, and I'm still not over it.

First, I don't cry when people die. I just don't. Even after my own father passed away, in 1996 from a heart attack, I only broke down once.

I'm not saying that to be boastful or even proud. Just the way I am.

So I certainly never cried after Sellers, the great comedic actor, died from heart disease in 1980.

But I'm still not over it.

Sellers was, simply, the funniest man in the world. Don't even argue with me about this. His work in the Pink Panther movie franchise, plus all the good stuff beforehand, in the 1960s, was nothing short of genius.

Sellers, as Inspector Clouseau, was one of the most unusually funny characters in cinematic history.

At once lucky, stupid, foolish, intuitive, and heroic, Sellers' Clouseau was so funny that you couldn't keep up with the laughs. At least I couldn't.

I love Steve Martin to death, and I think he's contributed mightily to the well-being of American cinema. But I'd like to shake him and ask him why he's donning the trenchcoat and making Inspector Clouseau knock-offs. He's made two of them, which is two too many.

My friend Bob Zahari likes to laud a Sellers movie called The Party, in which Sellers wrangles an invite to a Hollywood-type party and soon proves why he should be as far away from it as possible.

Bob's right; The Party is another great Sellers performance.

In the UK, Sellers teamed with other funny people like Spike Milligan and Peter Cook, and even Dudley Moore at times. They played comedy concerts and wrote together and made movies together and ran around like a funny British version of The Rat Pack.

But Sellers was the best, and the funniest of them all.



I think Sellers' death hit me hard because, at age 17, I was just beginning to appreciate film comedy, beyond what The Three Stooges and The Little Rascals were offering me.

I had just discovered Clouseau and other Sellers vehicles, was only a few years into enjoying them, when Sellers dropped dead. He was only 54.

Turns out that, as I found out more about Sellers, he had a bad heart, and had it for quite some time. He suffered heart attacks before -- 13 of them within several weeks in 1964, which damaged his heart for life.

His big break in the U.S. came when he starred in Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

Sellers, as with many funny people who perform, didn't lead a very funny life.

He was married four times between 1951 and his 1980 death. His highest profile marriage was his four-year one to actress Britt Ekland. He fathered three kids.

He served the British in World War II as an airman in the Royal Air Force. They say he turned to performing comedy as a distraction from the rigors of the war.

Sellers often clashed with other actors and directors, including a love/hate relationship with his friend Blake Edwards, who directed the Pink Panther films.

He admitted to having had an affair while married to his first wife, suggesting that it was with actress Sophia Loren.

"I'm not easy to live with," Sellers once admitted about his multiple marriages.

He suffered from depression, used drugs, and drank.

Pretty funny, eh?

I find it interesting that some of our funniest performers are also some of the most troubled. Maybe they use their comedy and gift of making people laugh as a way to forget about their own lives. Not sure.

Here's a clip of Sellers in one of his funniest Pink Panther moments, which is the most hilarious scene you'll ever see in a movie that involves gymnastic equipment:



Perhaps Sellers summed himself up the best.

"If you ask me to play myself," he once said, "I will not know what to do. I do not know who or what I am."

Friday, May 15, 2009

Twin Pining

Time, once again, to show my age.

I tend to do that a lot here, I know.

So anyone under 30, turn away, unless you don't mind being subjected to yet another tale of yesteryear.

I miss the Twin Pines guy.

There. I said it.

He used to bring you milk, the Twin Pines guy did, and tons of other good stuff.

Laid it on your doorstep, and prior to that, put it in your milk chute.

Whoa!

Yeah, you read correctly, under-30-yearsers.

The milk chute.

Some homes still have them, though by now they're likely painted shut.

The brick ranches and tri-levels that sprang up in the late-1950s, early-1960s like mushrooms all had milk chutes built into them, just about.

Usually located on the side of the building, the chute was a two-way deal: it opened on the outside so the Twin Pines guy (or whomever delivered your milk and dairy) could fill it with goodies. And it opened from the inside of the house, so you could retrieve and place immediately into the fridge.

No, I didn't say icebox. I'm not that old.

So you filled out a paper form and left it for the Twin Pines guy. And he'd dutifully fill the order, often when your head was still on the pillow.

Like I said, not just milk.

Orange juice. Bread. Potato chips. Pickles.

He might have left a chili dog, too, if you'd have asked him.

The truck was shocking yellow, with green trim. The logo was, as you would guess, a couple of pine trees.

Huh.

Twin Pines also had a mascot.

Milky the Clown.

Milky was a garishly-made up clown--and I know that sounds redundant--with a, well, milky-white face and some sort of weird-looking hat.

Come to think of it, he might have been the inspiration for the Joker makeup used on Cesar Romero in the old Batman TV series.



The picture pretty much says it all


Anyhow, Milky had himself a TV show in Detroit and he was played by a man named Clare Cummings.

I don't remember too much about the show, nor how successful Milky was in selling Twin Pines products.

I think I miss the idea of Twin Pines. The notion of a uniformed man delivering milk and other products to your doorstep, in the wee hours.

There's something out there now called Schwan's. They specialize in frozen food and it's actually quite good. We've been customers.

The Schwan's guy can't carry the Twin Pines guy's shoes, though.

First, Schwan's guy doesn't hit the road before dawn, like TP guy did.

Second, TP guy would take your empties away--your used milk bottles and the like.

Third, Schwan's guy is today and TP guy is yesterday and in my book, yesterday almost always beats today.

To those of you who remember Twin Pines, sorry for telling you stuff you already know.

To those who don't know what the heck I'm talking about, you missed out.

You should have been born earlier. Not my problem.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

House's Arrest

So what do you say when you're released from death row after 22 years, for a crime that you maintain you didn't commit?

"Took 'em long enough."

Those were the words of Paul House, who was convicted in 1986 of the rape and murder of Carolyn Muncey in Tennessee and then sentenced to die.

So let's release him and immediately nominate him for Understatement of the Year.

State prosecutors on Tuesday asked a judge to drop all charges against House. Special Judge Jon Blackwood accepted the request.

House's cause was championed by a group called The Innocence Project, which is affiliated with the Cardozo School of Law in New York.

It took the U.S. Supreme Court to get involved, though.

House was scheduled to be re-tried next month, nearly three years after the high court ruled, 5-3, that he was entitled to a new hearing.

"Although the issue is closed, we conclude that this is the rare case where -- had the jury heard all the conflicting testimony -- it is more likely than not that no reasonable juror viewing the record as a whole would lack reasonable doubt," wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy for the 5-3 majority.

House was also the master of the understatement back in 2005, in an interview with CNN. He told the network that he maintains his innocence. He was asked why then, he was still on death row.

"I guess that's the million dollar question," House said.

The details are this: Muncey disappeared after leaving her home in rural Luttrell, TN on July 13, 1985. One day later, her body was found, badly beaten. Forensic evidence indicated that she'd been raped.

From CNN:

House, who was on parole at the time as a sex offender, was questioned by
police. He denied any involvement in the crime. He was a friend of Muncey's
husband, but claimed he was in his own house several miles away the evening of
the murder. But prosecutors found a hole in his alibi, discovering that he had
left his home the night of the murder and returned about an hour later with
unexplained cuts and bruises.


If you think this is another editorial railing against the death penalty, you're right. With a disclaimer.

I've never, thank the Lord, had anyone close to me torn from me violently. Never known the anger and thirst for vengeance that such a hideous act would spawn.

So as someone who hasn't known that tragedy, I fall on the side of no death penalty.

If some monster, though, committed an act that befell Carolyn Muncey, against a loved one of mine, my view might change.

I like to think that's a rather mature, even-handed way of looking at this hot button issue.

Some might call that wishy-washy.

Tough.

Also at issue is the undoing of closure for the Muncey family. House's release means that her real killer is possibly still at large. Not a great feeling for them. One man's freedom is another family's reopened wound.



Paul House


It's funny, though. Whenever these things happen--and they pop up just often enough that it ought to make reasonable people squeamish about capital punishment--the prosecutors don't seem to want to let it go...totally.

Despite Justice Kennedy's assertion, in his 2006 ruling, that DNA evidence might point to "a different suspect," District Attorney Paul Phillips wrote in his petition this week that he still believes House could have been convicted again in a new trial, "but the new evidence (including the forensic examinations) raises a reasonable doubt that he acted alone and the possibility that others were involved in the crime."

And House, for his part, admitted that lying to police about where he was that fateful night didn't do him any favors.

But Phillips's begrudging words aside, House, who suffers from multiple sclerosis and uses a wheelchair, is cleared. Free. Sprung.

But, now what?

Yes, it "took 'em long enough," as House said, but no matter how much you clear a man, there's no entity that can give him his 22 years back.

Paul Newman, in the wonderful film Absence of Malice, has the bittersweet satisfaction of framing those who framed him for a murder. In a classic scene at the end of the movie, he opines about a friend of his who took her own life as a result of reckless news reporting.

"She's dead," Newman says in a justice department conference room with all the key parties present. "Who do I see about that?"

Paul House might ask that question.

"My 22 years are gone," he might say.

"Who do I see about that?"

After Newman asked his question, Wilford Brimley's justice department character responds sincerely.

"Ain't no one to see," Brimley says.

"I wish there were."

No kidding.

**************************************

(For lots more info about Paul House's case, click here for the CNN story and several related links)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

F the Troops

One of these days, someone's going to drop Gordon Ramsay on his ass, and then you'll never hear from him again.

Here's hoping.

Ramsay is a TV chef, but with an attitude. A seriously bad attitude.

I remember when you could hardly say "pregnant" on television. You had to hint about it, using words like "expecting". Maybe "bun in the oven" would have been acceptable.

Then George Carlin, some 30 years or so ago, did a famous comedy bit about the seven dirty words you couldn't say on radio or TV. He was even arrested for having said them during a performance.

Imagine that.

I don't really watch Ramsay's show. I have a hard time concentrating on anything where the audio is so full of the censor's beeps that it sounds like someone playing songs on a touch-tone phone.

Ramsay's routine is this. He goes to restaurants across the world--invited, incredibly--and his aim is to find out why said restaurant is foundering. Then he goes to work to try to fix it.

A noble aim, actually.

But Ramsay doesn't just observe, jot down some notes, and take the owner aside for some counseling.

Why, that would be bad television, after all!

Instead, Ramsay storms through the kitchen, barking orders and denegrating and humiliating the staff, almost exclusively with salty language.

Salty, as in the ocean.

In a recent episode, Ramsay uttered the f-word no less than 115 times in about 40 minutes.

It's not just that he curses. He gets up into the faces of the employees, making like a drill sergeant.

Ramsay has other shows, too. And in each of them his act is the same.

Cursing ad nauseam. More humiliation.


Yep--pretty much says it all.


The thing of it is that Ramsay actually has some good things to say--some helpful suggestions. The man really does know his restauranting.

I just don't know why he has to do it the way he does.

I'm amazed, frankly, that someone hasn't cold-cocked Ramsay. Hasn't hauled off and socked him in his British kisser.

That would make even better television!

For me, anyway.

Yesterday I wrote about how I don't know when anything is on TV. In Ramsay's case, I'm glad to NOT know.

But I've seen enough, stumbled upon his show enough, to not care to remember its airings.

If I was 16 years old, maybe I'd feel differently.

Back then, swearing on TV was funny.

Yet Ramsay is popular, no question. His act is clearly not tiresome to millions of viewers.

However, according to this story, some 51 viewers were fed up enough with the 115 f-bombs to dial into Channel 4 in Britain and complain.

It wasn't so much the swearing itself, for Pandora's Box was long ago opened in that arena.

The concern British viewers had was that the show, Great British Nightmare, aired at the relatively child-friendly hour of 9:00 p.m.

Not that we even have child-friendly hours anymore, with DVRs and TiVo and YouTube on demand 24/7.

But Channel 4 admitted that its judgment was poor when it came to airing the Ramsay curse fest at 9:00.

"We respect that, given the strength of language in the first part of this two-hour special, the program should have been rescheduled later than 9 p.m.," Channel 4 officials said in a statement.

Ramsay's spokesman also issued an "apology."

"Strong language is a feature of the restaurant business and Gordon is as passionate about his business on screen as well as off," he said.

I'm sorry, but there's a difference between having passion and being classless.

The spokesman went on.

"Naturally, Ramsay is sorry if some people were offended, but they should know by now that with Gordon there normally comes some pretty choice language," his rep added.

First of all, Ramsay isn't sorry. Let's get that straight. To think that he is, is laughable.

Of course, there's always the trump card of "turning the channel." The familiar cry of those defending such behavior.

Just turn the channel.

Except that there are more and more Ramsay-like shows on TV, meaning that there are fewer and fewer channels to turn to, in order to avoid this fusillade of foul language.

I don't know--I still think one good sucker punch, dropping Ramsay to the kitchen floor, might put an end to all this.

Just think of the YouTube hits on that one.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

What's On? Beats Me

I don't watch a lot of TV anymore.

Mainly because I don't know when anything is on.

It's all there, and yet it isn't--the television at my disposal.

I watch sports, mainly because I know when the games are played, and thus when they're being shown on the telly.

I used to know when my favorite TV shows were on.

Now, I have no clue when anything is on. And I don't have the time or the patience to bother finding out, I guess.

My mother is far more TV savvy than I am. She has favorite shows, some of which sound terrific, if only I knew when they were being broadcast.

But she knows, and since she's sans a DVR or TiVo, that means she has to plunk her butt on the chair and tune in, as scheduled.

And she does. Apparently.

There was a time, before cables invaded our homes, when I knew darn well when the "good shows" were on.

You only had to keep track of ABC, CBS, and NBC, you know.

Next time you see someone under the age of 30, tell them that once there were only three major networks, plus some UHF tiny TV tots.

Then have a camera ready, and snap their expression after you tell them this.

So ABC had Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley and Fantasy Island. NBC had Columbo and MacMillan and Wife and Laugh-In.

Ahh, then there was CBS. My favorite.

M*A*S*H.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Carol Burnett.

All in the Family.

The Bob Newhart Show.

Saturday night was the best.

Moore, Burnett, Newhart, Archie Bunker.

They don't make TV schedules like that anymore!

Heck, they don't make TV shows like that anymore.

Point being, I knew when to tune in to all of the above. ALL of the above.

This is before VCRs, even. So if you missed a show, you missed it. Tough.

Until the rerun came around, several months hence.

Now there are hundreds of channels, literally. I'm sure some of them even present something worth watching.

But I'll be darned if I know when.


I knew when Mary and friends were on, without fail


One of the culprits is the multiple showing. On the surface, it's a grand idea by programmers: replay episodes throughout the week so that the Neilsen families may watch in case they missed them originally.

But the result, to me, is simply more confusion.

If Show A is on at 8:00 p.m. on Thursdays, then I can train my brain to remember that. I'm pretty sure.

But if Show A is also on at 9:00 on Friday, 2 a.m. on Sunday, and noon on Monday, then you've lost me.

Give me one viewing to remember, and if I forget, shame on me.

Back in 1985, a co-worker invited me to his house.

He wanted to show off his satellite dish.

Today, the dishes (we have one) are small and dainty and sit delicately on your roof.

The dish he had--and I'm not making this up--was in his backyard and was surrounded by a fence.

This thing was as big as a garage. Again, no joking.

I thought that he not only could get television from it, but also some NASA updates, plus maybe some gossip from the Kremlin.

Then he showed me the "TV guide" for his service.

Tuesday night at 8:00 took up five, six pages.

No lie, remember?

I kidded with him.

"By the time I find out what I want to watch at 8:00, it's 8:30!"

He wasn't amused.

The dish he had was connected to his TV by a device that was similar to a cable box. And on this device were several--SEVERAL--settings, lettered.

Each letter was like a tier. And each tier's listings were printed in this weekly guide, which was almost as thick as a Manhattan phone book.

But gosh darn it, if I wanted to watch Leave it to Beaver at 8:00, I could probably find it, somewhere, on some tier on that monstrosity.

Too much TV. And that was 24 years ago.

Too much TV now, too. And no time to commit the schedules to memory.

It's like sitting near a vat of chocolate and being devoid of a ladle.

The Red Wings are on tonight at 10:30, by the way.

That much I know.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Especial K

It had been, until last week to me, as American as baseball, hot dogs, and apple pie.

No, not talking about Chevrolet--for they've been less and less American for years now. Just like their other Big Two-and-a-Half brethren.

Heck, let's play a little word association.

What flutters through your mind when I say "Kellogg's"?

Frosted Flakes?

Special K?

Tony the Tiger?

GrrrrrEATT!!??

Just some suggestions. Perhaps you thought, simply, cereal. Or Battle Creek, MI., where they make the stuff. The cereal capital of the world.

HA!!

Kellogg's is off-loading the manufacturing of some of their product south of the border. And I don't mean the Mason-Dixon Line.

My wife picked up a box of Special K cereal bars the other day. They looked yummy, based on the photo, though it was "enlarged for detail."

And only 90 calories per bar. Not that I'm counting. With my waistline, you'd need a calculator if you wanted to do so. At the very least, an abacus.

These days, though, it's not enough to just look at the yummy photo on the box cover.

You have to inspect the package for dirty little words--dirty to our family, anyway--like "Lite", "Lo-cal", "Diet", and "Sugar Free."

Dirty little words, indeed!

Or this one: Mexico.

Before I get a lot of angry e-mail from Mexicans, let me say firstly that my beef has nothing to do with you as a people. It's your government and the apparently filthy way it handles food and water down there.

But there it was, in tiny little print: "Product of Mexico."

Right above, ironically, the Kellogg's address in Battle Creek.


Be sure to check out the fine print!


So we can't make perfectly good cereal bars in the good ole U.S. of A.?

We have to export the work to Mexico?

What do they have there, that we don't possess here, when it comes to making cereal bars--besides cheap labor?

Ahh, there's the rub.

Naturally, we immediately grabbed every Kellogg's cereal box we own and looked for that dirty six-letter proper name that rhymes with Texaco.

Again, no offense intended.

With a sigh of relief, it appeared that our Froot Loops and Special K (with strawberries) were, indeed, products of the United States. Battle Creek, I hope. Best to keep our status as cereal kings here in Michigan.

So now Kellogg's, of all companies, is becoming less American.

First it was Kentucky Grilled Chicken. Now this, another food travesty.

Kellogg's stuff made in Mexico?

Then I say we make their Jose Cuervo Tequila in Des Moines!

Build a Dos Equis beer plant in Lancaster, Pa.!

Can I get an amen?

With all the folks out of work in this country--and especially here in Michigan--is it too much to ask that Kellogg's, no less, make their cereal bars in the United States?

Apparently, the answer is....si!

Friday, May 8, 2009

California Screamin'

Why anyone would want to live in California is beyond me.

And I know a few of them who do, personally.

But I don't know why they live there, necessarily. Just that they do.

There are wildfires raging in California right now, as we (sorta) speak.

There's always something raging in California. Or sliding. Or choking off the air flow. Or trembling.

Living in California, with its endless array of wildfires, brush fires, smog, mudslides and earthquakes must be akin to residing in one huge, twisted amusement park. Or an Irwin Allen disaster movie.

Not to mention all the weirdos in the movie industry walking around.

I'm all for experiencing nature, but I prefer to do it in my native Michigan, which admittedly has lost some of its luster, too, lately.

We used to have four seasons here--and they were very dilineated. And beautiful, in their own way.

Now we have four seasons--sometimes in the same day.

Lately I've noticed a phenomenon by which it's sunny, yet raining. Been happening more and more over recent years.

The seasons are beginning to fuse together, like a box of crayons left out in the sun.

Fall, one of my favorites, lasts about a week, maybe ten days. Preceding it is summer's last blast of heat; following it is bone-chilling dampness.


Just one of the many perils that await you on the left coast


Only for a week or so can you enjoy crisp temps and sunny skies and the leaves turning colors.

Winter does its impersonation of spring sometime in mid-February or early-March, getting us all horny for warmer weather and baseball. Then it says "psych!!" and goes back to North Pole-like conditions.

So Michigan isn't all that it was cracked up to be anymore. I admit it.

But better that than encountering life-altering, cataclysmic events constantly.

Heck, we don't even have tornadoes in Michigan anymore. Remember those?

But in California, it's...

EARTHQUAKE!!

MUDSLIDE!!

BRUSH FIRES!!

SMOG!!

HOLLYWOOD!!

No, I've never been there. Haven't been west of St. Louis, truth be told. And I have a beef with that, too.

Tip: don't go to St. Louis in early August, for the weather is like Vietnam.

I still haven't forgiven my friend Mike Lank for getting married on a Friday in St. Louis, in August, before the sun went down. In a church sans air conditioning. And making me wear a tuxedo.

But Mike's been married going on 22 years now, so at least there's that.

So no, I've never been to California. I'm as close to it right now, living in Michigan, as I ever care to be.

Unless someone offers me a job out there.

Every man has his price, after all.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

He Hart My Mug

I wonder what Bill Hart did with my coffee mug.

All this talk of Detroit politics, in the glow of the special mayoral election held on Tuesday because of Kwame Kilpatrick's ousting, got me to thinking of other disgraced high profile types the city has known.

I sat across from Police Chief William Hart in October, 1989, and the man seemed awfully stiff, I recall.

Hart was the first African-American police chief in Detroit, and I was getting ready to interview him on a local cable TV show I hosted called Innerview. Note the play on words. Boy, I was clever back in the day!

The show was biographical, and the cameras were all trained on the guest. We did it in an artsy-fartsy way, a format I copycatted from an old A&E show, the title of which escapes me.

The viewer saw nothing but the guest for 30 minutes, in an array of dissolves and various camera angles and points of focus: hand gestures, eyes, slow pans, etc. My face only flashed on the screen during the intro and outro.

The guest list was populated with local celebs, political figures, civic leaders, etc. We couldn't pay anyone to show up, so anyone who appeared did it from the goodness of their heart.

Or, in the chief's case, the goodness of his Hart.

We couldn't pay, but the chief wanted compensation, apparently. More on that in a moment.

But the interview itself was a little rough, only because Hart seemed awfully tight, as if I was interrogating him rather than chatting with him. It wasn't until toward the end of our half hour that he began to loosen up a bit. More on THAT in a moment, too.

After the interview, one of the chief's minions sidled up to me.

"The chief wants to know if he can have that coffee mug," the aide said to me, pointing to a mug bearing the logo of our public access sister station, which the chief had drank water from in the Green Room.

"Sure," I shrugged. The aide and the chief were armed, after all. I was pretty sure we had more of those mugs.

That was the chief's compensation, then--a TV-34 coffee mug.

So Bill Hart took the mug, thanked me for the chat, and bid me farewell.

The next morning, the news broke in all the papers and all over television.

Bill Hart was in trouble. Big trouble.

At issue was a police fund set aside for fighting the drug war in Detroit.

Hart was being accused of dipping his hand in the cookie jar and extracting funds, here and there.

To the tune of over $2 million.

The money Hart embezzled was used for blatantly personal use: to fix up a cottage in Canada. To wine and dine some female lovelies--not his wife. To take some trips. Maybe to have some "walking around cash."

Uh-oh.


Mayor Coleman Young (right) announces the appointment of William Hart as Detroit's police chief in 1976


So THAT'S why the chief was so stiff and uncomfortable!

Or so I convinced myself.

The interview with Hart had been scheduled a few weeks in advance, so I'm sure it was simple coincidence that it happened the day before the story broke of the investigation into his actions.

But he no doubt knew something might be up.

Hart was later indicted and eventually convicted. The final tally on the dough he stole from city coffers was around $2.6 million.

He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, in 1992. He was released in 1999.

Chief Hart died in 2003, at age 79. To his dying day, he maintained his innocence.

Even after his conviction, Mayor Coleman Young supported his disgraced chief.

"Bill Hart was a good cop," Young said. "People ought to remember that."

Bill Hart may have been a good cop, but he sure screwed up.

I wonder if he used our mug to rattle against the bars in his prison cell.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Mayor Bing

Turns out that Dave Bing had one more fourth quarter rally left in him, after all.

Former NBA star Bing, behind in the polls by all reports as recently as late last week, charged to victory in Tuesday's special mayoral election in Detroit.

Bing beat incumbent Ken Cockrel, Jr., 52-48 percent.

So Bing is finally Detroit's mayor--some 20 years or so since he could have had the job, had he wanted it.

The city's Kwame Kilpatrick-induced nightmare is nearing an end.

Like I've written before, the residents of Detroit were actually set up not to be screwed this time. Their choices, Bing and Cockrel, were pretty good. Cockrel offered stability, Bing offered vision.

Both are good, but these times call for vision. And urgency.

Bing is 65. He's already made a difference in people's lives, via his Bing Steel business and his noble efforts to house folks in the city.

But you can only do so much when you're not the mayor, and Bing saw Rome burning and too much fiddling going on.

Most of the fiddlers--well, all of them actually--sit on city council.

A bunch of Neros, and here comes Bing to set them straight.

Good luck, David.

Bing is likely to find that driving the lane against Wilt Chamberlain and playing for bad Pistons teams in near-empty Cobo Arena was child's play compared to what he's gotten himself into.

Bing brought out the heavy hitters near the end of the campaign: Rev. Jesse Jackson, former U.S. Senator Bill Bradley, and current Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson--the latter two Bing's fellow ex-NBAers.

Cockrel, according to reports, was outspending Bing toward the end, but both local dailies, and the African American-owned and operated Michigan Chronicle, all endorsed Bing.

So did I, as if that mattered.

It's a tantalizing question, though one that will never be answered.

Could Dave Bing have beaten Coleman Young, back in the day?



I say yes. But as one of my colleagues, Chris Hill, a copywriter, pointed out, Bing became the first man since Roman Gribbs in 1969 to defeat a sitting mayor in Detroit.

I countered by reminding Chris that Cockrel was, in a way, half an incumbent.

Cockrel became mayor late last summer after Kwame Kilpatrick was stripped of his cloak.

Bing isn't even out of the election woods yet, let alone the mine fields that await him as mayor.

He must survive an August primary in advance of the regular November general election. Then, and only then, will he be able to fully assume the role of mayor without having to spend half his time campaigning.

I've railed here before, as well, about the election-happiness of the city ever since Kilpatrick was forced out of office. Too many primaries and elections.

Voter turnout was even lower than usual, as expected. A major culprit, according to pollsters, was the fact that many people didn't look at Tuesday's showdown as the "real" election.

They only acknowledge the August/November boogaloo, apparently. Too much traipsing to polling places in the meanwhile.

I don't blame them, in a way.

The clerk's office, with the aiding and abetting of the fiddlers on council, drenched the city's residents with too many voting days, chopping up the remainder of Kilpatrick's term like a Japanese steak house chef on a celery stalk.

The people in Detroit don't like voting enough as it is. Sorry to say that, but the facts bear me out on that.

So God bless Dave Bing. He's going to need it.

Ken Cockrel Jr. is a fine man. He might have made a good full-term mayor, as well. But Bing's fourth quarter press shows why he's the best man for the job.

The city needs a bunch of three-point shots to get back into the game. And Dave always was a smooth shooter.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Dom-De-Doody-Dom

I don't know when I last saw Dom DeLuise, but I can assure you one thing.

He was most likely smiling.

DeLuise, the rotund actor/food enthusiast, passed away Monday, in his sleep, according to reports. He was 75.

I don't remember ever seeing DeLuise not smiling. He was a jolly, big man with a case of the giggles, particularly when working with longtime film castmate Burt Reynolds.

One of the staples of Reynolds/DeLuise movies was the inclusion of bloopers during the closing credits. Usually they involved DeLuise, laughing so hard that tears were rolling down his face, as Reynolds would try to get Dom to straighten up by slapping him across the face.

Naturally, that only made Dom laugh even harder. And I think Burt knew that would be the result. Maybe he just liked slapping DeLuise's big, round, bearded face.

One of the funniest films you'll ever see, and trust me on this, is something called The End, the story of a man (played by Reynolds) who's hell bent on killing himself once he finds out he has an incurable disease. DeLuise is a mental patient who meets Reynolds in a psychiatric ward, and the two of them pal around, thinking of ways Reynolds can kill himself.

But with every "attempt", Burt either chickens out or the plans don't work. The hilarity that ensues, heightened by the obvious chemistry between Reynolds and DeLuise, is considerable.

The movie closes with Reynolds walking into the ocean to drown, but in mid-stroll he has an epiphany and decides he wants to live after all. DeLuise has other ideas.

Then the movie gets really funny.

Dom liked his food, which was crystal clear by the size of his waistline. He wrote cookbooks and would often appear on cooking shows. Ironically, he bore a great physical resemblance to renowned chef Paul Prudhomme.


DeLuise (left) and chef Prudhomme; they could be twins


His books of Italian recipes were titled "Eat This!" and "Eat This, Too!"

That's funny, as well.

There were the Cannonball Run movies, which were hardly Oscar-caliber but were fun romps, directed by former stuntman Hal Needham. DeLuise again teamed with Reynolds in those, too--which were filled with star-studded casts.

Dom played the Pope in Johnny Dangerously, an underratedly funny film starring Michael Keaton and Joe Piscopo. He was Pizza the Hutt, a play on Star Wars' Jabba the Hutt, in Mel Brooks' science fiction send-up, Spaceballs. Brooks also used Dom in Blazing Saddles and History of the World: Part One.

He was funny, Dom DeLuise was, and you could tell that he had great fun being funny. And he didn't at all mind that many of the laughs were because people were laughing at him.

His sons were actors, and he appeared with them a couple of times in various TV shows, including 3rd Rock from the Sun, in which David DeLuise had a recurring role.

Here's how Dom DeLuise once described himself, and his on-screen persona.

"I'm actually a thin serious person," Dom said, "but I play fat and funny, but only for the movies."

God better make sure they have enough pasta upstairs.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Gored

Warning!! Today's post is graphic.

Just my words, today, will make you squirm and feel nauseous.

You won't need actual images, though one of them will find its way here, a bit later on. But that's an Etch-a-Sketch compared to what I will write about.

This is the story of a young girl who took her dad's Porsche out for a joyride, possibly amped up on cocaine, and crashed it, killing herself in the process.

That sentence, alone, conjours up some not-so-pleasant images in the mind's eye.

But I can assure you that anything you're cooking up in your brain, even with the most vivid imagination, is child's play compared to the actual images captured from this horrific event.

Nikki Catsouras was an 18-year-old Orange County, CA girl who, in a fit of anger and defiance, took her father's Porsche and tooled it down the freeway at speeds upwards of 100 MPH. It was Halloween afternoon, 2006.

She clipped another car, lost control, and slammed the Porsche into a very unmoving toll booth.

What the impact did to her will make you lose your lunch.

She was decapitated, for all intents and purposes.

How's that mental image now?

Probably still nothing like the actual images, which were snapped at the scene by California Highway Patrol (CHP) officers. They were among the most gruesome ever captured, in dead color.

The coroner, no less, refused to let Nikki's parents view the photos as part of identifying the body. That's how bad they were.

So the photos of Nikki Catsouras's body, described by one Internet commenter as looking like a "grenade went off in her face", and that you could only tell that it was her face because of "a row of teeth in the photo", were leaked by those two buffoon CHPs.

And, the Internet the way it is, they spread all over the Web like a fire in a balsa wood factory.

It gets worse.

The photos found their way into the "in" box of Nikki's father's e-mail account.

Under the guise of a real estate offer.

This story is making its way around the Net, so the odds are that this is the first you're reading about it is probably relatively slim.

Nikki's parents are suing the CHP, after other efforts to keep the photos from being posted on web sites proved fruitless.

The level of vitriol accompanying the photos is, frankly, almost as sickening as the images themselves. And that's saying something, believe me.

"Stupid bitch".

"Deserved to die."

"What a waste of a Porsche."

Nice, eh?

Nikki's family has sworn off the Internet. Her younger siblings are absolutely forbidden from Web browsing. They actually have NOT seen the photos of their sister's horrific death, and they're scared to death that even some innocent surfing may lead to accidental viewing of the photos.

Like what happened to their dad.

I Googled Nikki, and found three different things, basically: her pretty face, pre-accident; the car's wreckage; and, yeah, the gruesome stuff.

But the gruesome image was in the form of a thumbnail, and I could tell, despite its tiny size, that it wasn't anything I wanted to click on, full view.

I chickened out.

I didn't even know Nikki Catsouras, but I much prefer this photo of her:




The case is being played out, as we speak. The two CHP officers? One of them swears he only e-mailed the images to his own personal e-mail account. The other admits to e-mailing them to others, but as examples of the cautionary tales of driving under the influence.

No excuse.

Such graphic photos should remain sealed, forever, never to see the light of day. This isn't 1980, or even 1990. The Internet is as viral as ever, and I could post some horrific image right now and by the time you're done reading this, it will have been found and fired off to Lord knows how many people.


The crash scene


Now multiply that exponentially. In an hour? You'd be amazed.

Nikki's family? Man, I can't tell you how much I feel for them.

They say tragedy brings out the best in people.

Tell that to the Catsourases.



To read the entire story of Nikki's family's ordeal, here is the Newseek online version.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Kelly Girl

Kelly McGillis is a lesbian.

Says she's "done with the man thing." Her words.

McGillis, the actress whose visage leaped from the screen in the movie Top Gun, as Tom Cruise's squeeze, and who later showed her acting chops in an underrated film called Witness, starring Harrison Ford, has confirmed rumors that she prefers those of her own gender when it comes to physical intimacy.

Let's get something straight, right off the bat. I couldn't care less who's gay or lesbian or straight or bi or whatever else ya got. Lord knows they may have been inventing things since I've been on the dating scene.

A person's sexual preference doesn't define him or her, in my eyes.

McGillis told the media that she started to wonder about herself around age twelve. Something about her wasn't like other girls, apparently.

Yet she grew up, pursued an acting career, and even got married and gave birth to a couple of children.

Not sure how, when, or why the lesbian rumors got started, but they were out there, I guess. So much so that she came forward -- but not to refute them.

To confirm them.

But what strikes me about McGillis's outing is her statement, "I'm done with the 'man thing.'"

I'm sure there are plenty of straight women who'd like to scream those words to the heavens, as well.

It strikes me because I thought being gay or lesbian was about something inside you, probably from birth or not long after. Not because you're fed up with the opposite sex.

Like I say, I'm all for gay rights, but that seems a little drastic.

"I'm sick of men. Gonna give women a try. In the sack, and elsewhere."

Wow. OK.

It's long been my assertion that Hollywood is filled with far more gays and lesbians than homophobes would care to believe. And I bet that the roster of those who've not been outed or who haven't outed themselves would make your head spin.

My hunch.


McGillis in the Top Gun days (1986)....


...and more recently


Not that I care. When I enjoy a film, I'm not thinking about which way Mr. Actor or Ms. Actress "swings". Same with sports, when it comes to salaries. I care much more about a guy's batting average with men in scoring position in a close ballgame than I do how much dough he's pulling down.

To do otherwise would rob me of the joy of those two pastimes.

I think Ellen Degeneres is flat out funny as hell. And she's no more funnier after having "come out." Just like she wasn't less funny pre-outing. Do you feel me?

She's funny because she's funny. Gay or straight.

I think after the news of Rock Hudson's tragic battle with AIDS, that's when we began becoming less shocked by the outing of celebrities. I know it's stereotypical, but Hudson had such a virile image that it flew in the face of what we believed to be what gay men "looked like".

Gay men were supposed to look and act like Truman Capote. Or Richard Simmons. Not Rock Hudson.

But that was about 25 years ago, Hudson's losing battle with AIDS. We've seen many an outing since.

Last week, actress Bea Arthur died. For years I thought Arthur was a lesbian, and apparently I wasn't the only one.

But in reading more about her, turns out that Bea was as straight as a one-dollar bill. In fact, the "myth" that she was gay is on her official website, listed as distinctly untrue.

The Rock Hudson Effect, only in reverse.

Kelly McGillis is swearing off men. In the most definitive of ways.

Whatever floats your boat. Go for it.

The homophobes can just blame Tom Cruise. Must be his fault, right?